Zürcher Nachrichten - Woods faces steep challenge as Masters begins

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Woods faces steep challenge as Masters begins
Woods faces steep challenge as Masters begins

Woods faces steep challenge as Masters begins

Tiger Woods, 14 months removed from a car crash that left him with injuries so severe he feared he might lose his lower right leg, was set to launch his boldest Masters bid yet on Thursday as play began at Augusta National.

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The 46-year-old, who has slumped to 973rd in the world rankings, set the golf world alight when he confirmed on Tuesday he planned to tee it up with his sights set on a record-equalling sixth green jacket.

"I don't show up to an event unless I think I can win it," Woods said, expressing complete confidence in every aspect of his game.

But simply walking the hilly, 7,510-yard Augusta National course for four straight days will be a massive challenge, said Woods, who endured months of arduous rehabilitation in order to be able to walk again after the February 2021 crash.

"Walking is the hard part," Woods said. "This is normally not an easy walk to begin with. Now, given the conditions that my leg is in, it gets even more difficult.

"You know, 72 holes is a long road, and it's going to be a tough challenge and a challenge that I'm up for."

Misty rain was lingering as South Africa's Gary Player hit the first ceremonial tee shot to officially open the tournament alongside six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus and two-time winner Tom Watson.

Woods was scheduled to tee off at 11:04 a.m. (1504 GMT) after pre-dawn thunderstorms saw tee times pushed back by half an hour.

Woods's quest for a 16th major title comes 25 years after he cemented his superstar status with a record-setting victory that made him the youngest Masters winner, nabbing the first of his current 15 major titles.

He tees off alongside South African Louis Oosthuizen and Chilean Joaquin Niemann -- who was't born when Woods won his first Masters title in 1997.

But he's among a raft of young golfers whose careers were shaped by Woods's influence.

Scottie Scheffler, 25, arrived at Augusta ranked number one in the world after winning his first three US PGA Tour titles in the space of two months.

Spain's US Open champion Jon Rahm, 27, can regain the number one ranking he ceded to Scheffler with a first Masters victory, one of five players who can supplant the American this week along with reigning British Open champion Collin Morikawa, US PGA FedEx Cup champion Patrick Cantlay, rising Norwegian star Viktor Hovland and Aussie Cameron Smith.

Northern Ireland's four-time major winner, Rory McIlroy, will be trying for the eighth time to complete a career Grand Slam with a Masters victory, while defending champion Hideki Matsuyama of Japan is battling fitness concerns as he tries to join Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Woods as the only players to win back-to-back Masters titles.

- How many comebacks? -

But all the focus was on Woods, and whether he can pull off the most miraculous comeback yet in a career marked as much by his gritty determination to defy pain as by his sublime skill.

Woods won the 2008 US Open with a broken leg, then battled through five back surgeries, including at last a spinal fusion, before he won his 15th major title at the 2019 Masters.

"I mean, how many comebacks has he had?" former Masters champion Jordan Spieth marvelled.

Former PGA Champion Justin Thomas says Woods's game is "plenty, plenty good enough to play well."

So Woods will once again defy the pain and try to defy the odds to move one step closer to Nicklaus's all-time record of 18 major titles.

He would become the third-oldest major winner in history and would surpass Nicklaus as the oldest Masters winner by a matter of weeks.

"I love competing," Woods said of his motivation. "And I feel like if I can still compete at the highest level I'm going to. And if I feel like I can still win, I'm going to play."

D.Graf--NZN